Gadhafi Asks Supporters To Defend Regime
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
In Tripoli today, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi addressed a chanting crowd of supporters. He made the defiant speech from a perch overlooking the city's Green Square.
Mr. MOAMMAR GADHAFI: (Through Translator) I am among the public. We will continue to fight. We will defeat them. We will die here on the dear soil of Libya.
NORRIS: That was Gadhafi speaking through an interpreter on Al-Jazeera Television.
The world's eyes are on Tripoli, where tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters also took to the streets today.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is in eastern Libya, but she's been speaking to people in Tripoli. And she joins us now.
Lourdes, what have they been telling you?
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, we have spoken to a few people directly in Tripoli who took part in the protests today. We've heard that tens of thousands of people took to the streets in various neighborhoods across the capital.
Ali(ph), one resident of Tripoli that I spoke with, said as they approached a crossing to Green Square - the epicenter of the protests -they were fired upon. He told me his friend was shot in front of him. Ambulances came, but they were filled with pro-Gadhafi supporters, he said, and the wounded were loaded up and taken away to an unknown place.
When they opened fire, he said, we all started running, and there was complete chaos. He said also that there were snipers in several neighborhoods and many Gadhafi loyalists' checkpoints.
A second person we spoke with, Hader(ph), confirmed that, saying that when people started marching towards the mosques for prayers, there were checkpoints everywhere. He said his father is an imam, the leader of a mosque. And he says his father was told that he couldn't address the faithful today. And instead, at their mosque, there was a new imam, quote, "telling us lies." People beat the new imam, he said, and threw him out of the mosque.
They then took to the streets, and there was a confrontation, he said, by a cemetery. He said pro-Gadhafi forces opened fire there too. He said the youth responded with stones. He said two people were killed, and many others wounded.
Michele, it's impossible to verify these accounts, but they do seem to match.
NORRIS: You mention pro-Gadhafi forces. Is it clear who's firing on the protesters?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: According to the people that I spoke with today, they said that they were fired upon by men with yellow hats. They said they weren't sure exactly who they were. They weren't in uniform. They weren't army. They seemed to be some sort of irregular forces allied to Gadhafi.
NORRIS: Now, you're in Benghazi, which is under the control of the opposition. What was the reaction there to Gadhafi's speech?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, at first, disbelief. People here in the east, which is totally under rebel control, didn't want to believe that it was true that he appeared in Green Square. People here are hoping that the pro-democracy protesters in the capital will hold Green Square. They thought it was a hoax at first.
I spoke with one of the main rebel military commanders here, Colonel Tarek Saad. He said people in Tripoli told us they want help. They say they're unarmed, and they are being mowed down by Gadhafi's forces. Colonel Tarek Saad said he is sending reinforcements to the capital. He said, quote, "I have people who reached Tripoli hours ago. They are armed. They are well-trained. They can fight street wars." He said: We will liberate the city and its people and their families.
He also gave this warning to the town of Sirte, which is Gadhafi's hometown, halfway from Benghazi to Tripoli. He said, quote, "I want to deliver a message to the people of Sirte: You are with us or against us. Because when we move to Tripoli, you either join us, or we will finish you."
NORRIS: Lourdes, what's going on in eastern Libya right now?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: There was a large protest today here in Benghazi in support of Tripoli. All eyes are on the capital. People were carrying banners, reading: Libya, one body - Tripoli its heart. There were thousands of people there. And, in effect, it was a message of defiance, people told me. This is a Free Libya. They wanted the Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, to know. And we will unite the country under the banner of democracy.
NORRIS: And we should note that Free Libya is actually what they call that part of the country.
Lulu, do have any sense of what comes next? Are people referring to this as a civil war?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Certainly not. When you speak to people here, the last thing that they say is that this is a civil war. They feel that this is Gadhafi against the people of Libya. The big question, of course, is how long this man can hang on. There is an enormous fury here that the leader of this country has turned the guns on his own people - an enormous sense of betrayal. But they don't know if he will manage to coalesce forces around him and stand firm or whether he will be gone in a few days.
There's a great sense of uncertainty here and a great unease about what will happen next.
NORRIS: That's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro speaking to us from Benghazi in eastern Libya.
Lourdes, thank you very much.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome.
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